Trackside Hospitality: The Deluxe Way to Watch a Race

Photo courtesy Mercedes-Benz

Story by Tim Suddard - All photos by Tim Suddard unless noted otherwise. 

 

Like New York’s legendary Studio 54 nightclub, any pro race these days has gatekeepers manning the portals between the VIPs and the rest of us. On the other side of those carefully guarded gates lies the realm of beautiful people, unmatched track views and fabulous accommodations.

Although we usually spend most of our time at the race track in considerably less comfort, we finally got a chance to spectate a race from the promised land of catered trackside hospitality–and yes, it was everything we had imagined. The scene? The Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. The hosts? Mercedes-AMG, a company that knows how to show someone a great time.

There's nothing wrong, of course, with how most of us do a race. Hot buffet and high-tops on the hill? How about some scaffolding and a cooler instead? 

What’s It Like?

Mercedes-AMG is known for doing everything first-class, and this was no different. The company shipped its own full-size, portable building–the same one it uses at Pebble Beach–to Road Atlanta and erected it between Turns 1 and 2.

Inside we found the biggest TV we have ever seen. On it? The race, of course. Where most spectators stood in the red Georgia clay, here we were greeted by couches, two sim rigs, an open bar and three hot meals a day.

For those who wanted to get a little fresh air–and catch a view of the cars flashing by–Mercedes-AMG offered a huge patio. The experience felt more Las Vegas nightclub than traditional club racing weekend.

Mercedes-AMG also offered test drives throughout the weekend. Want to sample the new 515-horsepower AMG GT? We only had to be asked once.

Who Gets Invited?

These are private, invite-only events that are all about moving units, so the guest list mostly featured area dealers and faithful buyers of the marque’s high-end models–basically, the people who are likely to purchase another Mercedes-Benz.

According to Rob Moran, head of Mercedes-Benz public relations, guests also come from the AMG Private Lounge, an online community and network for Mercedes-AMG owners. And then, finally, organizers invite a few of us media folks.

What’s Covered?

In a word, everything. In some cases that even includes travel, hotel, shuttles and private parties with the race teams. It’s an opportunity to experience the race without the crowds, the traffic, the elements and, yes, the dirt.

Moran told us that the idea is to create an experience that can’t be bought–something truly special. “Mercedes is all about everything for some people and not something for everyone,” he explained.

Why Do They Do This?

Instead of campaigning a factory IMSA team, Mercedes-AMG simply sells cars to privateers. This hospitality is an important part of the support package to those independents.

How’s that? Teams can use this opportunity to connect with well-heeled race fans–and, as many folks have long realized, race cars run on money, not gasoline.

Professional racing involves more than just a bunch of cars circling the track. It's a business, and that business involves some hospitality. 

What’s This All Cost?

While Mercedes-Benz doesn’t exactly run around flashing the receipts, we heard that an IMSA program like theirs is considered a bargain at about $5 million per year. That total includes similar hospitality setups at Daytona International Speedway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

Why not do the entire schedule? Moran told us that the hospitality goes where the buyers go. Also, he added, the company would rather do a few events well than spread its resources too thin by attempting to cover them all.

If that price tag sounds high, compare it to a similar support program with professional golf or tennis. None of it comes cheap. Moran put it all into context by dropping one more age-old marketing adage: Enjoying your customers’ passion is one of the best ways to build brand loyalty.

How Can You Get in on the Fun?

Many other automobile brands offer similar amenities at pro races; look around the infield and you’ll spot them. But you don’t need highfalutin connections to play. Some tracks also host premium experiences that are open to anyone who can afford to pay.

Daytona International Speedway, for example, offers several corporate hospitality suites at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, in addition to individual hospitality packages that include food, drink and a roof overhead. How much? Like everything in life, it depends: Prices range from a few grand per person for a hospitality suite down to $18 a head for a nice breakfast in a comfy room.

Several years back we decided to start offering our own Daytona hospitality–something for race fans who crave early Miatas, track-prepped Subarus and Corvettes that have rubbed a fender or two. It may not be as fancy as the experience we enjoyed with Mercedes-AMG, but we’ve tried to capture the same spirit: Give folks at the track a place to call home. We’re not super into velvet ropes and bouncers, though, so even if you don’t have one of our special tickets, you can still come party with us. Just look for the giant circus tent on the shores of Lake Lloyd next year.

What's involved with this hospitality? access to drivers and teams, clean potties, and a dry, comfortable home base for the weekend. 

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Comments
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spacecadet
spacecadet HalfDork
5/31/19 3:05 p.m.

In reply to Tim Suddard :

my first and only trip to Lime rock in 2010 i saw dudes with a truck where the whole bed setup was a raised platform and they were sitting and watching and havin a good ol time.

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